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Allegheny County Council Weighs How Much Oversight Police Review Board Could Provide

An-Li Herring
90.5 WESA
Allegheny County Council held the first of four public hearings on a possible civilian police review board Wed., Aug. 29, 2018, at the Hill House Association in Pittsburgh's Hill District.

Allegheny County Council held its first public hearing Wednesday night on a possible countywide civilian police review board. 

The idea gained traction after the fatal shooting of Antwon Rose by part-time East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld in June. Supporters say a review board would increase oversight of the county’s 106 municipal forces.

But just how much oversight would depend on the role the board plays. At Wednesday’s hearing, Beth Pittinger, Executive Director of the city of Pittsburgh’s Citizen Police Review Board, said there are four possible models.

Pittsburgh’s board, for example, conducts its own investigations of police misconduct, with the power to compel testimony at public hearings and require production of other evidence. Following an investigation, it can recommend disciplinary action to the Pittsburgh chief of police, but it can’t enforce such measures.

The second option is an entity that reviews departments’ internal investigations or serves as an appeals board for their conclusions.

The third model is usually an individual that audits police policies and practices but doesn’t investigate individual cases, according to Pittinger. The fourth option, she said, is a body that simply offers advice on department policies.

Carlos Torres, Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, said a review board needs full investigatory authority to be effective.

“The power of subpoena gives us not only legitimacy, but it’s a clear indicator for those that are sitting across the table from us that we mean business -- that we are a law enforcement entity,” Torres said.

Torres’ office investigates allegations of housing, employment, and other types of discrimination within the City of Pittsburgh. It can subpoena witnesses.

Legislation to create a countywide police review board has yet to be proposed. But no matter what form it might take, the county couldn’t require municipal departments to participate.

Pittinger noted that, even without an oversight board, local forces can take advantage of support from the Department of Justice and the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police to improve their policies. She said elected officials in some municipalities outside Pittsburgh have contacted her to learn how to create their own review boards.

“So the resources are there,” Pittinger said. “It’s generally [that] the political will has to be present in that municipality.”

A second hearing on the possible countywide board will take place at the Millvale Community Center Thursday night. Meetings are also scheduled for Sept. 20 at Duquesne Elementary School and Sept. 26 at the Father Ryan Arts Center in McKees Rocks. All meetings will run from 5 to 7:30 p.m. and are open to the public.